Sunday 22 October 2017

ESRI dole report author stands over findings that families better off on welfare

THE AUTHOR of a politically sensitive report that claimed thousands of families would be better off on the dole, today stood over his findings although the ESRI has withdrawn the research.

Professor Richard Toll said he disagreed with the institute’s assertion that the public could be misled by the findings that 44pc of families would be better off not working.



“As far I know, the numbers are still correct and I still stand over them. There are of course serious issues with the data, because unfortunately in Ireland there's no real data set that really goes to the heart of this, so we had to combine two sets of data that were collected for different purposes. But as far as I know, we've done that correctly," Prof Toll, who no longer works for the ESRI, told Morning Ireland on RTE Radio 1.



Serious questions are being raised over why a state-funded think-tank, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), withdrew the report in an “unprecedented” fashion last night.



This effectively disassociated the institute from the findings made by one of its own experts.



It is expected the report will now be redrafted. As outlined in detail in yesterday's Irish Independent, it had concluded that 44pc of those with children would be better off on the dole than working.



It also found that working people incur five times the expense of those out of a job.



Adding to the controversy was the fact that the analysis was co-authored by economist Richard Tol. He has been engaged in a bitter war of words with the ESRI after departing for a job in England earlier this year.



In January he called into question the organisation's independence and condemned it for a lack of transparency.



He said the institute's independence was compromised by the fact it got so much of its funding from government.



He said this could manifest itself in the way the research it conducts is put into the public domain.



Prof Toll disputed claims that no senior member of the ESRI had seen the report beforehand, and indicated that he would publish his findings elsewhere.



The ESRI rejected his claims.



Now the ESRI is again under scrutiny after its decision to pull the report.



In a statement last night, it said the working paper had been issued as a "work in progress".



It insisted that it was not an ESRI report and had not been subject to any refereeing procedures.



"The institute understands that Professor Tol is planning to revise the working paper," it said.



Government officials were forced to deny that they had any involvement in getting the report pulled, after it sparked fierce debate about the benefits system.



If the findings of the controversial ESRI report stand up to renewed scrutiny, it will discourage thousands of the 430,000 on the Live Register from taking jobs and make it harder for the Government to tackle the jobless crisis.



Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the affair raised serious questions about the relationship between the ESRI and the Government and called for a probe into what happened.



Half of the funding for the ESRI comes from the Government.



Issues



ESRI director Frances Ruane said last night the institute was disassociating itself from the paper claiming there were serious issues around the methodology used to reach its conclusions.



She insisted the paper was a working draft and had not been properly validated.



Prof Ruane denied the ESRI had leftwing leanings and the findings of the paper contradicted this view. And she confirmed that new procedures would now be put in place to ensure that working papers are checked before they are published on its website.



Last night Prof Tol tweeted: "On holiday and every radio station in Ireland wants to talk to me."



In a statement the ESRI added: "The working paper was issued as a work-in-progress document on May 22 and should not be regarded as an ESRI report.



"The decision to withdraw the paper has been made as it has emerged that the underlying analysis requires major revision and that the paper's estimates overstate the numbers of people who would be better off on the dole than in work."



But Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath said the ESRI should be hauled before the Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection to explain what he called a "cock-up".



"It is a matter of great concern that an organisation that gets public money withdraws and retracts a report after it gets publicity," Mr McGrath said



Irish Independent

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